In a callback to President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Civilian Conservation Corps,” the White House and Democrats in Congress are pushing a new “Civilian Climate Corps” in their expansive $3.5 trillion budget resolution.
During President Joe Biden’s April address to congress, the commander-in-chief tied “meeting the climate crisis” to the creation of new jobs.
“For me, when I think climate change I think jobs,” the president explained.
Biden pointed to his policy agenda for the passage of a $2 trillion American Jobs Plan as creating such jobs. This plan has since been reduced by approximately $800 billion dollars, and was passed by the Senate in August as the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Despite its lower price tag, the legislation has a slew of new environmental and energy-development programs. For example, it would dedicate billions in total to building new charging stations for electric cars, millions to universities and colleges to research and develop new transportation technology, and additional funds for research and development of clean energy ferries and school buses, among many other environmental initiatives.
The construction of electric car charging stations, Biden said, will both allow the United States to “own the electric car market” and would create new jobs across the nation to build these stations.
The president also spoke to a broader vision, expressing hopes that America could also become a leader in manufacturing electric cars and batteries. He contended that “There’s no reason why American workers can’t lead the world in the production of electric vehicles and batteries.” Biden continued, “there’s no reason why blades for wind turbines can’t be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing.” There is “no reason—none,” the president emphasized.
Biden’s climate agenda also involves upgrading farming and offering incentives to farmers. Under Biden’s policy proposal, farmers would benefit by being paid by the government to plant “cover crops to remove carbon dioxide from the air.”
Civilian Climate Corps
Another key Democratic proposal endorsed by Biden is the “Civilian Climate Corps” (CCC). This program, an expansive new jobs program reminiscent of New Deal government job creation programs, is included in the much more partisan $3.5 trillion budget resolution, written by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
When Sanders introduced the budget, he explained what the program would be. The CCC, Sanders said, would give young people the opportunity “to get decent pay and to roll up their sleeves … in order to combat climate change.”
The inclusion of this program in the budget bill came after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) put his weight behind the proposal. Discussing these negotiations, Schumer promised in a press conference to “fight to get the boldest CCC possible.”
Schumer was joined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who took to the stage to defend the CCC. “What if [the CCC] led to tens of thousands of new trails in our national forests and park service?” she asked rhetorically. Ocasio-Cortez continued, “This isn’t something we have to imagine doing—that was the record of the original [New Deal-created] Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938.”
The program, she asserted, “is not a pipe dream, and is not some big and progressive vision that is ‘unrealistic.'” Rather, “this is what we have already done.” The New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps, Ocasio-Cortez said “was the largest peacetime mobilization of young Americans in American history.”
Ocasio-Cortez, who drafted the controversial Green New Deal and holds considerable weight in the House progressive caucus, wants modern Democrats to challenge that ambitious record. Ocasio-Cortez argued that Democrats’ “mandate today is not just to revive some of the most ambitious programs and ideas, but so much of this is about how we go even bigger and better than we did originally.”
Democrats are doubling down on this effort in the wake of widespread natural disasters that they allege to be the result of manmade climate change. Specifically, they pointed to the ongoing crises created by Hurricane Ida and still-raging wildfires across the west coast.
Chuck Schumer said in a press conference after these disasters: “Global warming is upon us, and it’s going to get worse, and worse, and worse unless we do something about it. That’s why it’s so imperative to pass the two bills.”
On Twitter, President Biden expressed the same sentiment. Biden wrote: “The past few days of Hurricane Ida, wildfires in the West, and unprecedented flash floods in New York and New Jersey are another reminder that the climate crisis is here. We need to be better prepared. That’s why I’m urging Congress to act and pass my Build Back Better plan.” This plan, a keystone of the president’s policy agendas during the 2020 campaign, includes both the Senate-passed infrastructure bill and the broader budget bill.
Debates about how much to put towards the CCC continue among proponents of the legislation. Biden asked for $10 billion for the program, but some Democratic lawmakers and environmental policy groups are pushing for a much bigger appropriation toward the program. Currently, the bill falls far short of either of these factions’ hopes, delegating only $3.5 billion to the program.
During a debate in the Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) defended the program. He called the funding a “bold investment … in a robust Civilian Climate Corps that will train the next generation of American land managers, park rangers, [and] stewards of our natural resources.” The CCC, said Neguse, is “a necessary response to the climate crisis [and] will prioritize the maintenance and upkeep of public lands.”
Neguse pointed to a recent wildfire in his state that cost several Coloradans their lives. The CCC would help to ensure this does not happen again by “invest[ing] billions of dollars towards doing this critical mitigation work in our national forests.”
The White House weighed in as well. Ali Zaidi, a deputy White House climate adviser warned that “We must seize this opportunity to build a big, bold pathway to critical careers, for a diverse generation of Americans ready to take on this existential crisis that we face.”